Boys tennis: Vijaykumar survives 3 match points, 2 grueling matches to win NSC singles

Stevenson’s Nikhil Vijaykumar was a freshman at the start of Saturday’s North Suburban Conference boys tennis meet at Vernon Hills.

By the time he had captured the No. 1 singles title to help the Patriots win the team championship, he must have felt like a senior — in college.

Long day.

Exhausting day.

The 6-foot-1 Vijaykumar needed more than a combined seven hours to edge Lake Forest junior Nishan “Rocky” Singh in a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 semifinal and Libertyville freshman Chase Peirce 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (8) in the final in breezy, sunny conditions. He trailed 4-1 in the third set of the final and then saved three match points in the tiebreaker.

On the eventual champ’s first match point — at 9-8 in the breaker — an arm cramp forced the right-handed Peirce to unintentionally drop his racket as a shot neared him.

“I couldn’t believe it. Finally, it was over,” said Vijaykumar, whose big, heavy topspin forehand lost little steam at the end of points, even after some of the grueling baseline rallies had exceeded 30 shots.

“Nikhil showed resilience, and he never gave up,” said Stevenson coach Izzy Balase, whose squad won three other flights at the seven-flight, seven-team tournament. “He kept swinging, kept making the proper adjustments.”

And kept striking clean winners at clutch moments. Down 7-6 in the tiebreaker, Vijaykumar ripped an inside-out forehand that froze the steadfast Peirce at mid-baseline.

“I’d rather miss heavy than miss short when my opponent has a match point,” Vijaykumar said.

Stevenson, which went 6-0 in NSC dual meets, finished with 49 points on Saturday, ahead of Lake Forest (45), Libertyville (35), Warren (31), Lake Zurich (19), Mundelein (15) and Zion-Benton (7).

The Patriots had clinched the team title before the start of the third set in the Vijaykumar-Peirce battle, thanks to Stevenson freshman Tanveer Sayyad’s 0-6, 7-5, 6-4 defeat of Lake Forest’s Quinn Brown in the No. 3 singles final.

“I was playing a little tight in the first set,” Sayyad admitted. “Second and third sets, I decided to swing harder and slap more forehands. Tough match. The wind was annoying.”

Stevenson’s Adam Visotsky/Richard Xu solved LF’s Oliver Silver/Owen Kuehnle 6-1, 6-2 in the No. 3 doubles final, and the Pats’ duo of Aaron Chen/Vrishan Kanuri topped LF’s Ashwin Joshi/Raunak Chahal 6-1, 7-5 for first place at No. 4 doubles.

Warren senior Brandon Paasch downed Lake Forest’s Gavin Burns 6-1, 6-1 for the top prize at No. 2 singles. The Blue Devil’s main weapon is a topspin forehand generated via a short backswing and a quick, 6-to-12 (picture the numbers on a clock) smack.

“It’s not Rafael Nadal’s topspin … I wish,” Paasch said. “But I like it, because I can fire that shot from anywhere on the court.”

The gutsiest player of the day might have been Libertyville sophomore Chethan Nickerson, who teamed up with junior Jack Gerber to take third at No. 1 doubles. Ahead 6-4, 2-2 in the match for third against Warren’s Ryan Vargas/Ian Trukov, Nickerson suffered a severe ankle injury and could barely walk afterward. But there he was some 20 minutes later, shaking hands at the net after the Wildcats’ 6-4, 6-4 victory.

“They kept hitting it to Chethan after the injury, and he kept making shots,” said Gerber, whose poaches and other aggressive shots finished points quickly and relieved his hurting teammate. “My doubles partner showed a lot of grit out there.”

Lake Forest’s Drew Harris/Nick Schweitzer, seeded second at No. 1 doubles, beat top-seeded Alex (Yunseong) Jang/Ian Williams 6-1, 6-2 in their final. At No. 2 doubles, Lake Forest’s Aiden Puthenveetil/Gavin McCullough won the title by walkover vs. Stevenson’s Akshay Maram/Tejas Sheth when Sheth couldn’t compete because of a wrist injury.

Other third-place finishers Saturday were LF’s Singh (No. 1 singles), Stevenson’s Chatti Annapragada (No. 2 singles), Libertyville’s David Taranowski (No. 3 singles), Libertyville’s Rinav Dugar/Carson Leighton (No. 2 doubles), Libertyville’s Michael Barhoum/Eric Li (No. 3 doubles), and Libertyville’s Jacob Bahrani/Jake Sesi (No. 4 doubles), who were unseeded but defeated the flight’s Nos. 3 and 4 seeds in a quarterfinal and in the third-place match, respectively.

Netters vie for state berths at sectionals next weekend.

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